Monday, August 01, 2011

Writing is Hard: Constructing a logline.



Image hijacked from Ancestry.com.

In the 17th century, a log-line was the way ships measured their speed. It's also where the nautical term "knots" comes from, but that's not what I'm talking about right now. I just thought that was cool.

The logline I'm talking about is the writing term: a brief synopsis of the story that summarizes the main character and the story's hook. According to Wikipedia, it started as a labeling system for Hollywood studios to easily identify and remember what scripts were about, but developed into a pitching tool. Not only for people pitching projects to producers, but also for pitching completed products to audiences - like the blurbs in TV Guide or DVR descriptions.

I don't know how much the term is used in the publishing industry, but the concept is certainly there. Writing a great pitch or query letter is a vital skill for writers, though one that a lot of new writers admit to having a problem with. How do you condense a novel or comic series into a one-sentence summary?

There's a really useful article on Scriptshadow that explains how to do just that. The boiled down version is this: "A good logline...gives us the main character, the main character’s goal, and the central conflict in the story (what’s preventing them from getting that goal)." There's a lot more to it than that and writer Carson Reeves makes it simple, including examples from famous movies. If you're a writer and unsure about how to hook an editor or agent with a pitch, it's important reading.

Come to think of it, it's good to have a logline even if you've self-published and are trying to sell your stuff online or at conventions. In the business world, it's called the Elevator Pitch: how you would describe your product to someone in the few seconds of time you have traveling with them in the elevator. I've been to a lot of conventions, traveled a lot of Artist Alleys, and heard a lot of sales pitches from independent comics creators. Most of them would have benefited by a strong logline.

It's also useful long before you get to the sales stage of your product. It's great for making sure you've constructed a good story in the first place. If you don't have a main character with goals and something that's preventing her from achieving those goals, you really don't have a story at all.
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